Local 856 organizing victory at the Rainbow Community Center of Contra Costa County

Last month, the staff of the Rainbow Center of Contra Costa County became the newest group to form a union with Teamsters 856.

Rainbow Community Center of Contra Costa County staff from left to right — Top row: Christopher Holden, Niq Muldrow, Marsais, Christian Aguirre; Bottom row: Larry Madriaga, Carol Osmer-Newhouse, Micah Rea, Jess Laird, Rae Messer


Rainbow is the only LGBTQ community center in all of Contra Costa County. The center provides youth, families, adults, and seniors with free and sliding scale group, couples, family, and individual therapy. They also provide a wide range of other programs including a food pantry, programming in public schools, training for health care facilities, businesses, other members of the community, and more.

“Our staff is committed to intersectional justice and reaching all members of our community despite barriers due to race, class, and gender identity,” said Rae Messer, an associate clinician at Rainbow. “We are here to be a safe and supportive space for any LGBTQ person who walks through our doors.”

After months of instability and insecurity about their jobs because of an increase in layoffs, Rae and her co-workers, Micah Rea and Jess Laird led the charge to organize their workplace.

In Jess’s role as an intake and referral coordinator for the center, he interacts with all of his co-workers, giving him a full view of the common issues facing staff throughout the center.

“I work with everyone here,” he said. “Because of that it was easy to see issues happening across the board. I could see how each department was experiencing similar fears and stressors.”

According to Jess, once he and Rae began to talk about the issues they observed, the idea to unionize arose and took root.

After meeting with Local 856 Representative Corey Hallman and Director of Organizing Chris Rosell, Jess, Rae, and Micah met with each of their 15 other colleagues to discuss the idea of forming a union together.

“Sitting down with our co-workers one-on-one and talking about organizing was a positive experience,” said Jess. “Everyone was interested, and we had the whole staff on board.”

“We dropped off union authorization cards at a house meeting and within a week nearly all of them were signed,” said Corey.

After receiving notice of the employees’ desire to form a union with Teamsters 856, Rainbow Center’s board responded positively and voluntarily recognized the staff’s choice the next day.

“We’re happy the board respected the workers’ right to form a union,” said Teamsters 856 Secretary-Treasurer/Principal Officer Peter Finn.

“We look forward to representing the staff at Rainbow and helping them negotiate a strong Teamster contract so they may continue to focus on the important and crucial work they do for the Contra Costa County community,” said Corey.

Corey will lead negotiations for the Rainbow staff’s first union contract.

Now that they’ve organized, Rae and her colleagues are excited about the future of the center.

“My hope is that now that the staff won’t have to fear speaking up that we will fully be able to use our gifts and skills,” said Jess. “I want my colleagues to feel safe and the center to thrive.”

This organizing victory is another win for the Teamster Organizing Network – a coalition of Teamster locals across California and Nevada whose goal is to help working people gain a voice on the job and build Teamster power in core industries.

“It’s a priority for us to partner with and organize non-profit community groups in the Bay Area because they are important to our communities,” said Local 856 Director of Organizing Chris Rosell. “Not only will we represent the staff at Rainbow, but we hope to help them flourish in their mission to serve the community as well.”